"Powers that be,
I ask of thee,
Show me the good,
Show me the bad,
Show me the ones,
I am to make glad."
Hands, gnarled and wrinkled, old as time itself, waved back and forth over the crystal ball. Fog obscured what moments earlier had been clear glass. As the mist dissipated, the blurred image of a man appeared.
The Cailleach gasped and her eyes widened with surprise. "Nae, it canna be."
The face came into focus and she had no doubt about one of the lovers. She knew of no one else on any realm with hair that shade of gold, streaked with fire.
He ran a hand through the top of his unruly mop. Eyes, blue as the sapphire DooNell wore around her neck, stared directly at her for a moment, before turning to the computer screen on his desk.
Still unsure of what to make of the vision, the old hag started another chant and waved her hands across the glass orb once more.
"Powers that be,
Show more to me,
Show me the one fair,
Who needs to be there."
Once again, the fog in the ball swirled, then lifted. The hag stared at the face of a female. Not the young girl she expected, but a woman seasoned by life. The Cailleach watched as the female swept a heavy mane of rich auburn hair from her neck, and stared as if she viewed the hag. A puzzled frown puckered her brow, and her sherry colored eyes darkened. The crone's heart beat a rapid tattoo until she remembered she could not be seen by the mortal.
A woman's voice called from another room, "Emma, where are you?"
"In here, Cori. How was your day?" The one DooNell now knew to be Emma pulled a piece of chocolate out of the bag by her hand and popped it in her mouth before she turned toward the door behind her. "Sure hope it was better than mine."
Through no request from the old crone, the crystal ball clouded over and the image and voices were gone. The mist cleared again and two faces, side by side, now stared from the glass, each pair of eyes reflecting their longing for something unseen.
"So be it." The Cailleach bowed her head in surrender to what the Powers required. She pulled in a deep breath before summoning the energy she needed for the task ahead.
Eyes opened wide, arms outstretched, she set the magic in motion to bring two beings together.
"Winds of the earth,
Currents of the sea,
Let these two,
Find the love,
They need to be."
Slumping back in her chair, the Cailleach sighed. She had done her part to set their discovery of love for each other into play. Now it was up to the universe to carry it forth.
Far harder would be explaining to Oberon why she had interfered in the life of his only grandchild. Neither the Faerie King, nor the entities involved from the other realms, would be happy with her over this potential new love she'd just set into motion.
"Ah, DooNell, lass. May be it, you be getting too old for this business of magical love?"
She sighed and forced her weary bones from the chair. There was much to do if the will of the Powers could succeed, and she had been given the task to make sure it did. Too many worlds were involved to leave the uniting of Emma and Ian to chance.
Emma Grant caught movement out of the corner of her eye as a man swooped down on her. What was she? Road-kill? The vultures had started circling shortly after the bar filled to capacity.
The placed reeked with more testosterone than a Super Bowl locker room. Unfortunately, the jocks that gravitated to her table crushed her dream of being irresistible to the opposite sex.
Yeah, like I've ever lived under that delusion.
Tonight's pull, like that of so many others, had been something else…the empty chair across the table from her.
"Say, if you're not using this chair I'll take it off your hands." A chiseled-jaw blond flashed his pearly whites at her and reached for the subject of discussion.
Fed up with the assumption the seat was empty because she wouldn't be waiting for someone, Emma glared and snarled. "Move it an inch and I'll break your arm."
"Sheesh. Keep the damn thing."
"I intend to, thank you very much."
She watched him stalk away and a small sense of satisfaction lightened her mood. That quickly dissipated with the scraping sound of the contested chair. Ready for another battle, she whirled around to face the latest "God's gift to women" only to discover the real reason she'd had to battle most of the men in the bar.
"It's about damned time you got here," Emma didn't attempt to hide her irritation as her roommate and best friend flopped into the chair across the table from her.
"Bite me." Cordellia Sparks patted her face with the tissue she pulled from her purse and flashed a snarky grin. "I had to cruise around forever to find a place to park that wasn't blocks away. It's hot as hell out there."
Being told to "bite me" didn't surprise Emma in the least. That was the favorite expression used by the bubbly blonde when something annoyed her. "No shit, Sherlock. I spent the whole afternoon out in the heat, not on my ass in a nice air conditioned office like some people I could name." Emma glared at the woman across the table, taking fiendish delight in the normally bouncy blonde curls now plastered to her friend's flushed face.
"Oh for Pete's sake, don't give me 'The Look.'" Cori preceded to finger comb her hair in an effort to unglue it from her head. "You'd think after all these years you would have realized it doesn't work on me." A shake of the damp curls and they bounced back into their normal ringlets.
Hate her, Emma decided as she watched the ease in which Cori turned a bad hair day into a cute one. Annoyed yes, Emma was still glad to see her sister of the heart finally place her rump into the chair she'd been fighting to keep empty until the persistently late woman arrived. Their first meeting in college had resulted in a connection stronger than the one she had with her real sister, which said a lot since she was a Yankee from Gettysburg, of all places. But Cori's habitual tardiness drove Emma crazy and had created several heated discussions through the years.
"I didn't give you 'The Look' as you call it. I simply pointed out you're not the only one here who feels the heat." Emma returned the glare directed at her with the comment. Cori could get her undies in a bunch if she wanted to.
The cocked eyebrow from the blonde served to spur Emma to share more of her thoughts. "I'm the one who traipsed around the city all afternoon on a walking tour for a group of testosterone-pumped teenage boys. They had more interest in ogling any female under thirty who passed, than my riveting history of Denver." Yes, she was grumpy and out of sorts, but Cori better keep her remarks about it to herself, or she'd get up and walk right out of here.
"By the way, why was it so important to meet at this meat market? Why couldn't we go home to our nice air conditioned house?" Triple digit temperatures and humidity always put Emma in a foul mood. Summer was one of the reasons she left South Carolina after graduating from college.
Denver offered a less humid option, but this year the thermometer and the blabber mouth weather people wouldn't let her escape the dog days of summer, even in the Mile High City. For cripes sake, it was only the end of May. She couldn't wait for July and August.
"Take a look around you." Cori fluffed her short do again, which only served to give more perk to curls Emma wouldn't achieve in a lifetime. "What do you see?"
"A blonde bubble head?"
And as always, a well dressed one. Too bad she's four inches shorter than me. I really like those pants. Being five feet ten eliminates most of her wardrobe for me.
She didn't need cute outfits to impress the high-class travel clientele who walked through the door of her business the way Cori did. Her current position of tour guide required comfortable shoes and loose clothes for the miles of walking the job entailed.
The remark earned Emma a scowl, so she tried again. "A crowded room?"
Cori leaned across the table. "Right, and what gender are most of the bodies in here? Male, darling. Male! This is the number one happening spot in our deliciously upscale Cherry Creek neighborhood." She sat back with a smug smile.
"Fat lot of good it does us." As much as she loved Cori, there were times when her friend thought with her head up her ass. "Look harder, blonde one. Most of the guys in here are young enough to be our sons."
"Bite your tongue my cynical friend…younger brothers is more accurate if you have to consider something as mundane as age." Cori sat back in her chair and surveyed the room. "Hey, there's an older guy at the bar."
Emma looked in the direction her friend stared and sighed. "Cori, neither of us is desperate enough to start dating guys old enough to be our grandfather."
"True." Cori smiled at the waitress who finally showed up to take their order. "Cosmopolitan for me please, and a glass of whatever sugary wine my grumpy friend is slurping, though God only knows how she can drink that crap." She flashed a grin at Emma and winked. "Anyway back to our subject."
Subject? What subject? Their conversation since Cori's arrival was more like follow the bouncing ball.
"And that would be?"
"Men-or rather our lack of them. Here we are almost forty and alone."
"Speak for yourself ancient one. I'm only thirty-eight."
A diabolical smirk curved Cori's lips. "Soon to be thirty-nine if I recall correctly. Sort of like staring down the barrel of a loaded gun as that new decade creeps up on you, isn't it?"
Emma rewarded her roommate's evil grin with a smack on the shoulder. "I can't believe I call you a friend."
"You love me and you know it." Cori rubbed the spot of Emma's blow. "So, as I was trying to tell you, I feel the tick of my biological clock."
"Tick. Hell, mine's been booming for years. Big Ben sounds soft by comparison, but I do believe my main spring has sprung." Emma drew circles with her finger on the table in front of her, unable to meet her friend's eyes.
"Sprung? Tell. What the hell do you mean by that remark?"
"I mean…" Emma paused to clear her throat, reluctant to say the words about to come from her mouth. "I think I had a hot flash today."
"No!" Cori's jaw dropped. "I hope you don't get as bitchy as my mother did when she went through the change. I love the woman dearly, but for awhile there she turned into Super Bitch."
"I'm not in the change yet. Haven't you heard of peri-menopause? I said I think I may have had a hot flash; then again, I may have overheated a little. After all, I was wearing my feet to nubs in ninety-plus degree heat in an effort to enlighten a group of teenagers on the history of our fair city. Between their attitude and the weather, who knows?" Emma regretted bringing up the subject and knew the resentment reflected in her voice. "All I know is one minute I was hot and the next, really hot."
"Did you feel your heart racing like you'd just run a hundred yard dash?"
"Well, maybe not that hard, but it did beat a little fast."
"Well, sounds like the start of menopause if you ask me." A smug little smiled paired with the twinkle in Cori's eyes. "Either that, or a hot guy walked by and I like the hot guy theory better."
"Nobody asked you. I shared my day when you asked about it." She hated it when Cori used the I-told-you-so tone.
The waitress plopped their drinks on the table and Cori rummaged in her purse and fished out several bills to pay for them. "See, this is another confirmation of what I've been trying to tell you. We both need a man."
"And how do you propose we accomplish instantly what we've not achieved in thirty-plus years in the love department?" Emma raised her eyebrow to emphasize her point. "I read something the other day. Women over thirty-five have a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than getting married."
Emma watched her friend slide several bills to the waitress. The tip for the harried looking woman must have been a good one given the grateful smile she flashed as a thank you. Maybe she should have offered to pay for her drink, but she'd get the next round. Besides, Cori irked her with all this talk about men, a subject she tried not to think about these days. She couldn't remember the last time she got laid. Better to focus on her new career as a tour director and travel guide than non-existent sex.
Cori sipped her drink and nodded approval. An anxious expression crossed her face as she appeared to study Emma for a moment before she spoke. "Well, since things are serious for both of us in the love department-as in seriously not having any-maybe I should share something about me you don't know."
"Which is?" This should be good. She knew most of Cori's vanilla history. Raised in the perfect family with parents who adored her and a mother she still called weekly, well the whole thing was enough to put most people to sleep. But, come to think of it, Cori's mom could be pretty demanding at times, so maybe there was discord in paradise.
"I'm a witch."
"Yeah, I know you're a bitch."
"No stupid." Cori's cheeks puffed out with irritation. "Witch! As in itch with a 'w' in front of it."
"A what?" Honestly, next the ditz would tell her about the hex she put on their nosey neighbors, which wasn't a bad idea. Better yet, if she was a witch, why in hell hadn't she conjured up some men for them before now?
Witch my ass. The woman still believes Prince Charming will ride up and sweep her away someday.
"I don't recall stuttering. I said I'm a witch."
Emma couldn't decide whether to laugh or throttle the woman sitting across from her. "Cori, I love you like a sister, but sometimes you're just plain full of crap. Like right now. Next you'll tell me you ride a broom across the moon on Halloween."
Cori shot her a drop dead glare and downed the rest of her drink in one gulp, signaling the passing waitress for another. "Well, shit-a-brick. You don't have to act so high and mighty. There are things about me you don't know and this happens to be one of them."
Biting the inside of her cheek, Emma repressed a grin. The booze had started to hit her friend when the shit-a-brick comments began to flow.
Better think about food or getting home before she digresses into her other favorite drunken foul abuse verbiage.
"Yeah, and how did this magic happen? Excuse me, I mean when did you decide to become a witch?"
Cori was a cheap drunk and the second Cosmo sitting in front of her would make getting her home a fun task. Obligation prompted Emma to pay for the drink. Her tip must have been small compared to the earlier one from her friend, because Emma only received a slight smile from the server.
She turned her attention back her friend. "Maybe we should order an appetizer." She definitely needed to get food into Cori.
Waving away Emma's suggestion, Cori continued with her explanation. "Heredity. You don't decide to become a witch with real powers when it's in your bloodline, one only needs to work to develop their natural powers."
The little burp emitted at the end of this declaration took away from the intended seriousness Emma knew the statement meant to convey.
"I know both your parents, and your mother doesn't come across as a witch. Hell, most of the time she's not even a bitch. And when your father was alive, he was one of the sweetest guys ever." Emma still mourned his loss along with Cori.
"You don't know the full story." Cori waved her hands to emphasize the point, and bumped her glass. Part of her drink sloshed on the table and onto her fingers. "Fuck-a-duck. Oh well, waste not, want not." She licked the liquid from her hand.
Uh-oh, we're to the talking with hands and fucking feathered friends level. I should have insisted we order food.
"Mom is no witch and Dad wasn't my real father. He was the second husband."
Emma choked down a giggle as Cori leaned back in her chair and attempted to focus her eyes. When it appeared she was unable to accomplish the feat, Cori shrugged her shoulders and continued her tale.
"The first, the one who sired me is a warlock. He and Mom split when I was around three. She didn't want him to teach me the craft so she booted his ass out."
"Oh." Stunned at the news, Emma could think of no other comment.
"Pops and I reconnected when I got older, but not too often since neither of us wanted Mother to find out and raise hell. He's some mucky-muck on the witches' high council and frankly, I think I embarrass him since I don't practice magic." Cori leaned forward. "But, with our love lives in such a depressed state, I may have to reconsider brushing up on the family craft. What do you think?"
Distracted by her cell's vibrating dance across the small table, relief surged through Emma as she managed to catch the phone before it bounced to the floor to partake in a germ fest.
"Hello." She placed a hand over one ear in an attempt to block some of the noise around her. Upscale or not, all bars had at least one thing in common…the more alcohol consumed the louder the volume became. "Could you speak up, it's pretty noisy in here." Still unable to hear above the roar, Emma retreated to the hallway outside the ladies room where the background noise became a hum.
"Sorry, who did you say you're with?" When the caller said Simple Tours, she almost dropped the phone. She'd submitted a resume to them months ago and never heard back. Several comments from the caller, who identified herself as Jane, told Emma the she had the information in front of her. The next question had Emma's heart pounding.
"Scotland? Sure I can lead an extended tour around the country. I'm sure I can rearrange my schedule."
She answered a few more questions then grabbed for the pen she'd stuck in her pants pocket earlier. She used it to jot down on her wrist the number Jane gave, then promised to call her tomorrow to confirm the tour after she looked at her calendar.
Come hell or high water I'll make this opportunity work.
Emma snapped her phone closed and headed back to the table, still in shock from the call.
Her wish for a job assignment had been granted, but not for some airport "meet and greet" or rinky-dink coach tour around Denver. Still unable to believe the news, she sat down and turned to face a curious Cori. "You'll never believe this. Simple Tours asked if I want to lead a tour for them."
"Wonderful." Cori leaned over and attempted a quick hug. Emma settled the tipsy blonde back into the chair, grateful she hadn't fallen out.
"I told you they'd call. Out of all the land tours I book, theirs are the ones I get the best feedback on." This endorsement of the group was followed by a burp any guy would envy. "Where is the tour going and when do you leave?"
"Scotland. Two weeks from tomorrow." Emma fished in her purse for the small notepad she carried and transferred the phone number written on her wrist.
Cori's face fell. "Scotland. That's one of my dream trips and I'm too frigging busy to clear my calendar that soon. Damn, wish I could go with you so we both could have a Scottish fling." A smiled played across her lips as she dreamily stared into space. "I love men in kilts."
Emma raised her eyebrows and grinned. "Why don't you use magic to clear your schedule?"
The waitress plunked another round of drinks on the table before Emma had time to take offense.
"From the gentlemen in the corner." The harried server pointed to a table of four men in various stages of pudgy, jowly and balding that grinned and waved. The waitress leaned in as she cleared the empty glasses from their table. "I prefer my man out of his kilt." A lewd wink over her shoulder as she swung her hips through the crowd left no doubt what she meant.
Emma groaned when two of the men from the table identified as their new patrons made their way toward them. "Let's get out of here." She shoved back from the table and grabbed her bag.
Cori attempted to stand, but couldn't manage the coordinated movement of rising from the chair and turning. "Oh fuck-a-duck." She blinked and grinned as her rear teetered on the edge of her seat.
"God, you're such a potty mouth when you're drunk." Emma glanced over and mentally prepared herself as the duo of bald and balder swooped down on them. "See what you've done Miss Hot Pants." Right now, the thought of a Scot in or out of his kilt seemed like a better option than the guys moving in on them at fighter plane speed.
* ~ * ~ *
"Morgana, would you please stop shuffling through my papers. I have them laid out in a special order." Ian grabbed the stack from her hands before the small Faerie went into one of her famous tantrums at being told not do something.
"Ian, why do you spend so much time with that infernal device?" She pointed toward his hard drive and he reached for her finger to direct it toward a safer object. The last thing he needed was a computer crash. Her little rosebud mouth went into a pout. "You could be having more fun doing something with me than shut away in this stuffy old room."
Ian stifled a groan. Why in hell did she show up so frequently to create havoc, if life in the castle bored her? "Maybe you should stay in the Realm if you find things here not to your liking." Oops, probably not a good remark to say out loud. He saw the angry sparkle in her dark eyes and braced for an explosion.
"Excuse me, Your Highness." Helmond, Ian's butler, stuck his head around the door before he stepped further into the room. "You have a phone call."
"Thank you, Helmond. I'll take it in here." Ian sat down in his desk chair and Morgana draped herself over the back then started to run her fingers through his hair.
Helmond cleared his throat. "Sire, I do believe this is a business phone call." The stocky elf glared at Morgana.
She puckered her mouth in displeasure, but Helmond's steely glare held steady. Ian bit back a smile. The two were always in a battle of wills that the determined butler usually won over the mischievous Faerie.
"Oh, very well. I have better things to do anyway than hang around this drafty old castle." She planted a kiss on the top of Ian's head. "See you later." In the blink of an eye, she was gone.
"Sire, you really must talk with your grandfather about Morgana spending so much time here. Her mischief with the household staff is creating discord. They become very skittish when they even suspect she's around."
"I'll take your suggestion under consideration, Helmond. Though one would think with the various godly blood from my father and Fae from my mother, I could keep one female Faerie under control without the aid of my elders." Ian shook his head in disbelief. Or could he? When it came to Morgana, maybe the butler had a point. Oberon, the Faerie King was the only one she listened to. "I don't understand why she spends so much time here, when she contends the Faerie Realm is more fun."
Helmond rolled his eyes. "Surely you jest, Sire. The little midge has a crush on you."
"Oh, I see." The thought hadn't occurred to him. "To me, she's a pesky little sister." Ian closed his eyes and attempted to envision the relationship Helmond hinted Morgana wanted. Nope, his mind refused to go there. Only brotherly concern emerged. He shrugged and considered the subject closed. "Guess I'd better get back to work."
"Your call, Sire." Helmond nodded toward the cordless phone on Ian's desk.
"Oh, there really is a phone call? I thought you used the excuse as a ruse to get rid of Morgana."
The butler adjusted his tie and smoothed down his frock coat. "I do believe it is Mr. Brian."
"Thank you Helmond." A prickling of the hairs across the back of his neck as he reached for the phone alerted Ian the caller had an ulterior motive for the call. "Ian, here."
"Ian. How the hell are you old man? I've held so long I'm on the verge of dying of old age."
He chuckled at the sound of his agent's voice. "Sorry about that, my friend." The chills intensified, spreading across his shoulders. Brian was checking up on him. Probably had a call from the new editor on when the next book of Celtic folklore would be available from Ian Nordic.
"So tell me, Brian. To what do I owe this honor?"
Like I don't know.
"Had a shout from that new editor in New York, you know, Susan Brown, the one who took over for Marge. She's wondering when to expect the next book?"
Damn, he hated to break in a new editor. He'd had Marge trained on his work habits. Why in hell did these people have to retire? "Brian, did you tell her to back off? Bloody hell, she got the edits back on Faerie Dreams early. I've barely started the new book and she will get it when I've completed it to my satisfaction."
"Care to share any insight on what it's about with your agent and best friend, old chap?"
"Brian, you know I'll tell you when I complete the first draft. That's the way I work, and after all these years I'd think you'd have figured it out."
The agent's sigh came through loud and clear. "I know. You've always been an odd duck, even back in our school days, but since you moved back to that god forsaken castle in the middle of nowhere, you're becoming down right strange."
Ian let his silence speak. They had been roommates when he went to boarding school in the mortal world. Their friendship continued after graduation and Brian knew him well enough that the lack of comment would tell the agent he'd overstepped their preset boundaries.
"Okay, okay. You're right. But thought it best to make you aware the vultures are circling. This woman is rather aggressive."
There was more to Brian's call than to ask about the current book. Ian could sense his friend's stress. "Come on, out with it. What are you not asking or telling me?" He could almost see the man at the other end squirm in his chair.
"Well." Brian cleared his throat and started over. "It seems this new editor thinks it would be a good idea if you did a book tour. Your fans are really foaming at the mouth to get sight of you."
"No." Book tours were not on his agenda and Brian knew it.
"Right. Well, that's what I told her, but you know how pushy some of these American broads can be. I finally said I'd ask, but warned her not to expect the results she wants since you're about the most reclusive s.o.b. I know."
The sound of shuffling papers came across the line as clear as if Ian had moved the ones on his desk. A vision of Brian's cluttered desk flashed before Ian's eyes.
"Just checking in with you, my friend. Wanted to keep you up to date on what's happening in the world of publishing for Ian Nordic. So, guess we'll talk later."
Ian laid down the phone and grinned. Most of Brian's teenage years had been spent in England when his father was the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. His almost English accent peppered with American terms and slang delighted Ian.
Still, there was no way would he do a book tour, even to please his friend. Let the public eat up his books the publisher pitched as Celtic folklore. He turned back to the blinking screen, clicked on save and closed down the computer.
It was time to play Laird of the Manor and show his face around in the community. That was as close to being recognized by people as he wanted to get.
If the world found out the truth about Ian Nordic, Ian McCabe could kiss his peaceful life goodbye.